I’m watching opening day. Wonderful.
I’ve been meaning to write a “here comes 2011” post for weeks now; I guess late is better than never. Most of what I have to say has been said in one place or another.
I’m optimistic about 2011 for the Red Sox, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t worried about the pitching staff. I read a provocative question regarding the Sox staff somewhere this Spring: “Is the Red Sox staff good, or merely deep?” It strikes me as a legitimate question.
#1: Sure, Lester is an ace. No questions there.
#2: Buchholz is the poster child for sabermetric regression. Virtually every advanced metric last year (especially BABIP, xFIP, K/BB. K/9and strand rate) suggests that Buchholz was exceptionally lucky, and that his 2.33 ERA was something of a mirage. He won’t suddenly sink, but don’t be surprised to see an ERA closer to 4.00 than 3.00 this year. That’s good, not great.
#3: Beckett. Sigh. Entering the first year of a 4 year, 60 million dollar extension, one really has to wonder how much Beckett has left in the tank. This spring was not reassuring. When healthy, Beckett has a wicked curve and a nasty fastball. When not, his back injury flattens out both pitches and wrecks his control. Fingers crossed that we get more Dr. Beckett, and less Mr. Hyde.
#4: Lackey. I wasn’t a big fan of this signing last season, and I wasn’t surprised to see Lackey put up mediocre numbers last season. The guy is a horse, and he’g likely going to pitch his 200 innings. But they won’t be great innings–expect another 4.50 ERA.
#5: Dice-k? Wake? Doubrount? Player to be named later? Its hard to guess who will finish the year as the #5. Certainly, Dice “I can’t throw a ******* strike” K will be in line for the job, given his $10 million salary.
The bullpen should be outstanding. Any potential struggles by Papelbon should be absorbed by Bard (who will certainly be the closer after Papelbon departs for the Yankees this offseason). Jenks and Wheeler give nice 7th and 8th inning depth. I am a bit surprised that perennial prospect Michael Bowden didn’t make the team.
Obviously, this offense is ungodly. The Sox boast a potential all-time 1-6 with Ellsbury, Pedroia, Crawford, Youkilis, Gonzalez, and Ortiz. I mean, JD Drew isn’t an all-star anymore, but its pretty scary when he’s your #7. The Sox will score runs. And, assuming Youkilis holds up at third (and I think he’ll be ok in terms of zone rating), they can field the ball, too.
The big question for me centers around Josh Beckett. I think that will determine whether the Red Sox win 95 games (and perhaps the division) or 90 games (and perhaps miss the playoffs).
The Yankees figure to be very good. There offense might come down a bit (Jeter, A-Rod, and Posada are all getting older), but I think their gamble on veteran, back-end starters is likely to pay off. I figure the Yanks can win 95 games.
I think the Rays are in trouble. Yes, they have the best starting pitching in the loaded AL East. And, yes, traditionally starting pitching wins in the regular season. But the AL East is a different beast–and all the other teams have very strong lineups (even Baltimore). I’m not sure starting pitching is enough, especially since the Rays bullpen got raped in the off-season. You can’t seriously start Dan Johnson at first base and hope to compete in the AL East. I figure, given their pitching, the Rays will win 90 games.
The AL Central has a few top contenders, and a few real stinkers–so I wouldn’t be surprised if that division put up two 94 game winners. And, since I think all five AL East teams are strong, I would be surprised to see three teams equal the win totals of the top AL East teams last season. In other words, I’m not convinced that the wild card will come out of the East–it certainly could, and probably will, but I don’t think it is the given that it has been lately.
So, here’s to hoping that I’m wrong about the pitching staff. That Buchholz is an ace. That Beckett is still a potential 20 game winner. That the Lackey who lived in LA will finally arrive in Boston. That somebody translates “contract year” into Japanese. Because, otherwise, this great lineup might sit home and watch the playoffs. Again.
I thought I might take a few minutes and review my pre-season expectations as we wind down to the post season. Below are my picks from Spring Training.
NL EAST: Phillies
I’ll admit, I really hope I end up wrong on this one. It would be a nice story if the Braves could win one more for Bobby Cox. As of last night, the Phillies have taken over first place in the NL East by 1/2 game. I’m not sure the Braves’ offense, sans Chipper Jones, has enough to retake and hold the lead against a healthy Phillies squad down the stretch.
NL CENTRAL: Cardinals
Here’s another one where I’m happy to be wrong–I like to see an underdog win (especially given baseball’s extremely uneven playing field). Votto is for real, and the Reds won the all the games they needed to win (even if they tend to struggle against the upper-echelon teams). I think there starting pitching is too thin for the playoffs, but they are a great story.
NL WEST: Giants
As of today, the Giants are two back in the loss column to the surprisingly good Padres. I do think the Giants will take them–but this in large part relies on what the Padres do with their young stud Latos. I’ll assume anyone reading this knows the Verducci Effect. Latos threw 120 combined minor league and major league innings last season. He’s already over the Verducci guideline–throwing 160.2 thus far in 2010. History would advise the Padres shut him down now. Chances are, given the economic situation in San Diego, they will pitch him into the ground over the next month. I also think he should be a frontrunner for the NL Cy Young, but I’ll save that for a future post.
NL WILDCARD: Braves
Yup. If the season ended today, then I would have called it. Again–I’d rather see them win the division and secure home field.
AL EAST: Rays
Please, Tampa, please–don’t blow it. You are pretty much my only hope.
AL CENTRAL: White Sox
I originally liked the Twins in the spring–but I drank the White Sox kool-aid and bought into the possibility of a resurgent Jake Peavy. I thought the White Sox could win 90 games–and it looks like they will. What’s unexpected is the Twins winning 95 or 95 games. I thought the central would be a stronger division (what happened to the Tigers? Oh yeah, injuries).
AL WEST: Angels
I didn’t like any team in this division–and I’m happy for the Rangers for the same reason that I’m happy for the Reds. I also wonder how this pitching staff will hold up in the playoffs against high powered offenses; thier pitching numbers get padded in an offensively challenged (read: historically inept) Al West. Any chances the Angels had broke with Morales leg.
AL WILD CARD: Red Sox
I have already cathartically released my disappointment for the Sox this season–but it wasn’t meant to be. Now the Rays will likely win the Wild Card, and the Yankees the division. The Yanks are relatively healthy this year, like last year; even if Pettitte can’t contribute in the playoffs, I think the Yankees have to be the favorites. Oh sweet baseball gods, what have I done to deserve this two years in a row?
Anything but the darkside. Looking at the calendar, September is upon us. The Sox are 7 games out. Nothing against Al Michaels, but, generally, no–I don’t believe in miracles. So I am changing alliance for the rest of the season from my beloved rebellion to this upstart movement in opposition of the dreaded empire.
In other words, go Rays.
Back in May a few people mocked me for dismissing the Sox’s chances after a terrible April start (11-12). So, like, not to say “I told you so” or anything. But, um, well…
Of course, on top of that inexplicable slow start, this year’s club was decimated by injuries. Hence the 12-13 July. But had the Sox put up an 18 win April, like their May and June (when they were somewhat healthy), they would be 7 games better than there current 74-58 mark. Hey, seven games? Isn’t that precisely how many games they trail the Rays and Yanks. Funny stuff, this life we live.
If any team in baseball lost their #1, 2, 3 and 4 hitter, then they probably wouldn’t be 16 games over .500. Add to that the fact that the Sox were without there #1 starter (at least in name), starting center fielder, back-up catcher and you really have to give credit to Francona for keeping this team alive. Although I think he rides his starters a bit too long sometimes, I have really come to appreciate Francona as a manager.
I think its time to stop rooting for the Sox and start rooting for whoever is playing the Yankees. It is an emotional moment. Of course, there is still some hope left–but ultimately I’m already in mourning for the 2010 season. Here’s to hoping for a Ray of hope to crush the evil this October.
I’m a bit worried though. The Rays have great pitching, but too streaky of an offense. The Rays struggle to score runs against strong pitching (they are something of a whiff factory), and that could kill them against the Yanks. The Rangers look outstanding, but they are a young and largely unproven team; and it remains to be seen if they can score runs once Josh Hamilton gets walked every at bat. I don’t take the AL central too seriously this year–the very fact that the White Sox are still in it speaks to the division’s overall mediocrity.
So, in conclusion. Darn it. Wasted Opportunity. Somebody beat those Damn Yankees.
As a Red Sox fan, this is “kinda” a tough trade deadline.
The Yankees got better, but not that much better. Kearns is a quality reserve; his career .258/.353/.426 line pretty much screams replacement player. I’m glad to see them pick up Berkman, just because I think that tank is empty and that contract is large (though the Astros are flipping part of the bill). Its fun to watch the Yanks give up prospects and waste money. Wood is the big pick-up here, and the one that the Yanks got for nothing. If Woods underperforms, the Yanks can cut him. If he returns to last years form, then the Yanks grabbed a quality arm on the cheap for what figures to be a ridiculously tight August and September.
The Sox, on the other hand, were uncharacteristically quiet. Of course, the Sox expect most of their position players to return in the next couple weeks, so investing prospects for temporary replacements didn’t make sense. Yes, we acquired Saltimacchia. This would have been front-page news a few years ago. As my cousin Andy put it, The Paw Sox got a nice upgrade at catcher for their stretch run.
But we didn’t acquire the one thing we really needed: relief help. In fact, we gave up on one arm–Ramon Ramirez, acquired in the Crisp deal a few years back. This really surprised me–because although Ramirez has struggled a bit this year, he’s a proven guy. I believe I heard whispers that he wasn’t too happy with his role on the team, and this likely mandated a move. Because, while his stats aren’t quite as good as 2008 or 2009, they are still better than a lot of relief pitchers around the league.
While I am disappointed that we didn’t get a reliever, I’m also happy we aren’t the Twins. Minnesota gave up one of their best offensive prospects, catcher Wilson Ramos to rent Nationals closer Matt Capps. In 1519 career plate appearances, Ramos has a .283/.330/.426 minor league line. And he can catch well. Capps is a vanilla closer–he’s never topped 30 saves in a season, has a craptastic K/9 ratio, and an un-inspiring 3.47 ERA. Yahoo has a great post up with all the complaints of Twins fans for overpaying for Capps.
The Sox were supposedly in the bidding for Capps. And the whole situation stings my memory with a needle from 1990. Remember the ghost of Larry Anderson? The Red Sox traded a first base prospect with a career .321/.390/.436 minor league line to the Astros to rent a journeyman starter/reliever. Anderson pitched X innings and won Y games. That prospect, Jeff Bagwell, hit 449 home runs, drove in 1529 RBI, and retired with a .948 OPS. Oops.
So while we didn’t really get any help, we didn’t make a regrettable mistake. I generally like the Twins, so let’s hope they don’t regret this trade 20 years later.
Ok, so I opened last post saying how I prefer stories to predictions. And I offered some stories. But that doesn’t mean I am immune to the case of prediction-itis so contagious this time of year. I’ll keep it short, at least.
NL East: Phillies
Great pitching and a deep line-up. I don’t think their potential bullpen struggles will keep them from winning an improved division. 95 wins (+2 over last year).
NL Central: Cards
Albert Pujols might produce more runs than the Pirates. A strong rotation and capable bullpen should translate into 90 wins (-1 from last season) in a rather weak-pitching division.
NL West: Giants
Most of the experts are picking the Rockies–and I do like Jiminez and that rotation. But, if Aubrey Huff and Edgar Renteria can be better than terrible (and I think they can/will), then I believe the Giants offense will be improved enough to win 95 games. They can pitch. Well. 91 Wins (+3 over last season).
NL Wildcard: Braves
So I’m leaving the Rockies out of the playoffs. The Braves had a lot of issues last season, and still managed to win 86 games. This off-season, they added some nice pieces to give Bobby Cox one last run at a second ring. If everyone stays healthy, I like their chances [note: I acknowledge that as a super-tremendous “if”] to win 91 games (+5) and win the wild card.
AL East: Rays
Yes. You read that properly. I think the Rays will be motivated this season (i.e., many contract years) and that their young pitchers will produce (well, I’m not sure about Wade Davis, but the other four should be good). A deep starting pitching staff and dynamic offense will put up somewhere around 95 wins (+12 over last season).
AL Central: White Sox
Hey did anyone else notice that this team got Jake Peavy? As in, the Jake Peavy? The really dominant guy who pitched in the middle of nowhere for half a decade? Yeah, they got that guy. 90 wins (+11 over last season).
AL West: Um… Angels or Mariners? Maybe the Rangers? Oakl… nevermind, the A’s Stink
Ok, I know I have to pick one. But this is an ugly division. Even the Rangers could win–although I don’t think they can survive the heat (literally, it just wears them down). I really like the Mariners, but Cliff Lee’s early injury has me concerned. Ultimately, I think the Mariners make for a good story, but the Angles have the better, more experienced, and more consistent roster. Even without Lackey, they find a way to win 89 games (-8 games).
AL Wild Card: Red Sox
I think the new rotation will hold up, and that the bullpen will be stronger than many realize. The offense is not as light as people think. The real issue here, of course, is that I am leaving the Yankees out of the playoffs. I’ll make a case that this is not merely wishful thinking. The Yankees keep getting older. Last year no one thought the Yankees’ pitching staff could survive 162 games. I know they added Vasquez, but he comes with AL question marks (and comes from one of the lightest hitting divisions in baseball last season). Just because Pettitte and Burnett made it through a complete season last year doesn’t make it more likely that they will this year. Very few people in the professional media are willing to bet against the Yanks. I am. Injuries hurt their rotation. Red Sox 93 wins (-2). Yankees 92 (-11) wins. The AL Beast should provide one hell of a show.
So I suppose I should write a quick something about who will beat who in that other season after the real season. Hmm. AL: Red Sox beat White Sox. Rays beat Angels. Red Sox beat Rays (Rays have more quality starters for the regular season, Red Sox have more horses built for the playoffs). NL: Giants beat the Braves. Phillies beat the Cards. Giants beat the Phillies [blue plate upset special].
World Series: Red Sox Beat the Giants
Now that would be a nice story.
Lunch break is over–off to grade some papers (while I listen to some baseball). Apologies to Cubs fans.
What’s interesting about this Yanks squad is that, while Tex and Rod are that good, they haven’t performed like the best 3-4 this season (that title would go to Mauer and Morneau by a long shot). So, if they get hot, that’s why they might have a shot at 1000. Even if they don’t, a lineup this deep will be a nightmare to face in the playoffs.
As Joe wrote the other day, the Angels lineup is almost as good–and is only a few runs behind the Yanks despite missing Hunter for over a month. If there is a chance for any other team, including my Red Sox, its that I think (despite the media infatuation) that Sabathia and Burnett are very beatable pitchers. The Angels, too, have holes in their starting rotation.
This is why I thought the Sox could challenge for the AL Crown this year if they made the aggressive move to acquire Halladay. Now, I don’t think anyone [fan] will ever know exactly what the deal entailed. But I will go on record, irrational as it may be, that I will evaluate Buchholz, Bowden, Bard, and Anderson’s careers against two seasons of Roy Halladay. And the World Series Championship such an acquisition would have ensured (like I said, this is my irrational dream world. I am sharing it with you. If you don’t like it, leave).
If one of those players makes it to more than two all-star games, then I will say loudly and humbly “Theo was right.” If they do not, then 2009 will forever be the-year-that-
There’s no research today. There’s no vituperate swipes at the Rays. There’s a germ of a diatribe against all of the media that like to frame the Red Sox and Yankees’s payrolls as equivalent, but I’ll save that for another day.
Today there are six holes in my heart, surrounded by 31 and 1/3 puncture marks.